Angry electorate coldly voted to liquidate Fianna Fáil


FINALLY, THE tall grass parted. By God, but this was no rush job. It was a long time coming.

When the verdict came, it was crushing. Moreover, it was thoroughly considered.

For this is the new politics; history, tradition, old allegiances and overweening presumption hold no sway anymore.

The Irish people looked back in anger this weekend and then they coldly voted to liquidate the party that plunged their country into liquidation.

After decades of Fianna Fáil dominance, they turned and taught Fianna Fáil a devastating lesson: You call yourselves a national movement? Now, let us show you the real meaning of a national movement . . .

And with that, they emerged from the long grass and gutted the Soldiers of Destiny. Extraordinary.

Unthinkable, once.

The general election of 2011 will be remembered as the one which shattered another of the three great pillars of old Ireland. It was always a proud boast of the faithful multitude that they belonged to the Untouchable Trinity of the Catholic Church, Fianna Fáil and the Gaelic Athletic Association.

No more. Only the GAA remains, standing proud and rightly cherished.

FF big beast after big beast falling, as the ticker-tape pulsing across the bottom of television screens announced the end of political dynasties and shell-shocked household names watched stronghold constituencies desert them. It made for compulsive viewing.

The winners were almost overlooked as the compelling story of Fianna Fáil’s momentous meltdown unfolded.

But not in Co Mayo, where Enda Kenny led from the front, bringing home an unprecedented three running mates.

Fine Gael fought a brilliant election. Kenny, the underestimated man from Mayo, is now taoiseach-designate. He stepped into his new role on Saturday night with a refreshing humility and a pledge to restore public trust in the debased currency of Irish politics.

You could see how much he wanted the job. His energy and passion undeniable; his determination to make a difference an encouraging contrast to the jaded nature of what went before.

Given the level of public expectation surrounding him and the scale of the task facing his new government, it’s hard to know whether to feel happy or sorry for the man.

The Labour Party put in its best electoral performance ever, exceeding the seats won in the Spring Tide of the early 1990s. When Eamon Gilmore ties the knot with Kenny – don’t expect a long engagement – their union will produce a government of well over 100 TDs.

Labour’s campaign was a rollercoaster ride, from the high expectations of the “Gilmore for Taoiseach” days to a worrying slide in the opinion polls and a final-week rally that pulled them back to respectable territory.

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams romped home in Louth as his party returned a record number of TDs and post-election Tricolours. They will be a major Opposition force, within touching distance of Fianna Fáil. How the two parties will rub along together on the very much depleted Opposition side of the Dáil will be a fascinating feature of the 31st Dáil. Drawing up the seating arrangements should be an entertainment in itself.

The Green Party won’t figure in those plans, as none of their TDs made it back.

Adding their considerable bulk to the fascinatingly diverse make-up of the Opposition will be a large assortment of Independent deputies from the right, the left and the whatever you’re having yourself wing of Irish politics. The stuffy and prissy powers that be in Leinster House must be having palpitations over the imminent arrival of the flamboyant likes of Luke Ming Flanagan and Mick Wallace.

Whatever else happens in the coming months or years, it won’t be boring in Dáil Éireann.

If it won’t be easy for Kenny and his incoming administration, heaven only knows what it will be like for Micheál Martin and his traumatised little band of Fianna Fáil survivors. No women in their ranks, the much vaunted Ógra generation almost wiped out, the party in a shambles at local level.

Dara Calleary, the only outgoing junior minister to retain a seat, began the fightback on Saturday night in Mayo.

“This is our darkest hour, but we will rebuild and I will roll up my sleeves and work for our party.” Fianna Fáil will regroup, but things will never be the same.

The shape of Irish politics is changed forever. And it was the people, no longer passive in the tall grass, who did it.